With its terrible writing, dump truck-sized plot holes, horrible Twilight fan-fic dialogue and a plethora of downright ridiculous misconceptions about BDSM and kinksters, Fifty Shades of Grey, the first book in E.L. James's trilogy, made me want to faceplant into my Kindle. It's four hours of my life that I will never get back.
I get that this is a work of fiction, but at the same time Fifty Shades has become an influential book, and will continue to be with the first movie coming out. Which is why it's important to point out its shortcomings. Here's a list of reasons why Fifty Shades of Grey sucks -- and the movie -- due out next year -- will too.
5. It wrongly portrays people who are into BDSM.
Fifty Shades of Grey does an incredibly poor job of portraying BDSM, and the people who are into kink, illustrating them as being mentally unstable, stalkerish, manipulative and as carrying major childhood trauma. Main character Christian Grey uses GPS to stalk main character Anastasia Steele after they've spoken all of twice, which is creepy as all fuck, Christian asks Ana to sign a slave contract on their first date which actual kinksters wouldn't do or advocate doing because she had no earthly clue WTF she was getting into and he was deliberately manipulating her -- and because consent is the cornerstone of safe, healthy BDSM relationships.
And yes, some people within the kink lifestyle are victims of childhood trauma, but I'd wager my shiny leather whip that the percentage of those folks isn't any higher than what you'd find in the vanilla lifestyle.
4. It's rife with misogyny.
Ana's character hates other women (especially blondes for some reason) since she sees them as whores who are trying to steal her man; as a result, she has a lot of disturbing inner monologues about how she can't stand her supposed best female friend. The character spends a good chunk of time slut-shaming other women -- and even herself, and the internalized misogyny was so disgusting I had to walk away from the book a few times just to bleach my brain. The book also gives the overall impression of dominance and submission as equating to rich, powerful, fucked-up men can do, say and have whatever they want, while women are illustrated as weak, insecure, virginal, gullible doormats who have no voices and no understanding of their own wants and needs.
The author got it all wrong, and if she thinks this is how all women relate to each other, and how domination and submission works for kinksters, then she needs to do some actual research before she coughs up another sexist piece of trash.
3. The relationship between Christian and Ana is more like abuse than BDSM.
The relationship between Christian and Ana that is depicted in Fifty Shades is not BDSM, it is abuse. Many of the book's situations involve Christian forcing Ana against her will, blatantly violating her consent, willfully ignoring her boundaries, not taking "no" for an answer, and knowingly putting her in dangerous and harmful situations for his own purposes. It's not difficult to recognize how dangerous and unhealthy their relationship would be in real life because Christian is not really a safe dominant. He doesn't practice open and honest communication with Ana (something kinksters put a premium on) and instead reinforces the severely fucked idea that if your partner plays at power games, then it's okay to be abused.
Fifty Shades has brought abuse to the mainstream, masquerading as BDSM to people who don't know any better; he upcoming film will likely do the same thing.
2. It sets up young women to think that crap self-esteem is okay
There were several points during my reading of the book that I wanted to lob Christian in the dick for being an arrogant, mean, assholey control freak. But the author is the one to take issue with, for shamelessly exploiting an old trope (innocent virgin female meets rich, sophisticated male) and taking it to the level of eroticizing and romanticizing controlling abusiveness at her main female character's expense. Ana is thrown into a coerced submissive role which is not to her benefit and has to struggle to figure out that Christian will only reward her with love if she gives him everything he wants. That setup reinforces the idea that it's okay for naïve young women to think they are crap because men say they are, and they have to earn the right to be respected as human beings.
This whole notion that women should get the short end of the flogger because they are women is a "red room" filled with utter bullshit, and the wrong kind of pain.
1. Fifty Shades gives people new to BDSM a lot of incorrect and harmful ideas.
For those outside the BDSM lifestyle, Fifty Shades is seen as a "gateway book" to explore kink. The biggest problem with that is the book doesn't address the social and safety protocols that kinksters engage in, giving kink noobs the dead wrong impressions that a BDSM relationship consists of a male dominant approaching a female submissive and he starts giving her orders to follow (whether she consents or not) and is conspicuously missing crucial concepts like hard and soft limits, consent, negotiations, trust and familiarity.
BDSM is about safe, risk-aware, consensual, informed, and mutually beneficial relationships. Fifty Shades is a blueprint for how to violate/ be violated, harm/be harmed, manipulate/be manipulated, and people genuinely interested in exploring BDSM should throw this book in the garbage and ignore the movie -- unless of course they want to end up fifty shades of fucked-up -- or fifty shades of incarcerated.
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